Thursday 10 November 2011

Why Uganda’s youth seek their own new political direction

Why Uganda’s youth seek their own new political direction

By Omar Kalinge-Nnyago

In July 2010, I received invitation from the Inter Party Cooperation’s National Youth Executive Committee for their celebration of the UN Youth day on 12th August.  They also sent a draft of what they called the IPC Youth Agenda, a solid, well thought six page document outlining their concerns for the future of the country and their position in it. They refused to dwell on history, they focused on the future. At one point they referred to their document as the IPC Youth Manifesto for 2011.

The tone of the IPC Youth Agenda betrayed a kind of desperation and immense anxiety. They felt that the current leadership in Uganda had not given them a fair deal. They decried, yes, but more importantly, suggested solutions to unemployment, poor quality of education, the inadequate access to health facilities, nepotism, and the abuse of human rights by security agents, in their determined effort to limit freedom of assembly and expression. They sounded angry but determined to cause regime change in 2011, through the ballot. The document related their commitment and desire for a peaceful democratic change to the need for a new Independent Electoral Commission. They argued that a free and fair election was only possible under an Electoral Commission acceptable to all. It was not clear how they intended to cause a new EC to be put in place.

The September 2009 riots in Kampala had revealed a disturbing reality, that the Ugandan youth have become quite radicalized over the years. The profile of the stone throwing, tyre burning youth on the streets of Kampala and the suburbs was easy to sketch. The majority were under 25, not very educated and most likely not gainfully employed. The riots provided them a chance to be heard and perhaps to be taken ‘seriously’, for the first time in their lives. They were not much different from the disgruntled youth of Kibera or Mathare slums, whose dangerous role in the Kenya December 2007 riots was well documented.

The government seemed surprised that this was happening. It shouldn’t have been. Rampant unemployment, uncontrolled drug and substance abuse, cheap and widely available alcohol without restriction and a pseudo youth empowerment policy could not have produced a different result.  If, God forbid, the type of youth that ravaged Kampala on those three fateful days had been joined by their equally desperate and disgruntled university students and the thousands of unemployed graduates roaming the streets, we would be seeing another face at State house today.

There is this unfortunate NRM reinforced view that the youth are a vulnerable group that should depend on affirmative action and on the patronage of the ruling party. They have created the false impression that having youth members in Parliament was the ultimate youth empowerment. NRM has exploited the youth by making them their voting machines in parliament. They are just one of those pro-government voting blocks along with the 10 UPDF Members of Parliament, District Women MPs, Workers MPs and the disabled MPs. This shameful role that the youth have been made to play will have far reaching consequences.  

This is probably because the last 23 years of the NRM regime have ensured that youth are de-intellectualised,   a calculated move to create a generation of youth who cannot think critically nor  advance  intelligent arguments on crucial matters affecting them and their country.  So, the "typical Ugandan youth" cannot agitate for employment opportunities, better education or health care because s/he has been told: “don’t worry, be happy!” -  what with the movie channels that never stop, what with the hundreds of radios that do little more than play music 24 hours a day, and in the interlude, blast advertisements of the next local artistes’ music shows or the next foreign music star coming to town, as the vernacular radios invite young and the old to get solutions to unemployment, disease from witch doctors. This tragic combination of youth trivialization, de-intellectualisation and popularization of superstition must be reversed.  

It is now November 2011. The youth’s quest for change has not diminished. They failed to change the regime through the 2011 vote, which was stolen from them. My concern is that their desire for regime change is not matched with their confidence with the election managers and the electoral processes. They are increasingly drawn to other non-electoral methods of democratic change, and this is where the Walk to Work phenomenon comes in. Some of them thought that they would achieve a minimum agenda of reduced commodity prices and youth employment, through legal demonstrations. Now, most have been disappointed that walking on their own feet has been criminalised. Walking to work is treason in Uganda. They now ask: “was it worth choosing the non- violent path in the first place?” Uganda’s peace and security will be determined by the answer the security agencies have for these restless youth, 83% of whom are unemployed. The Police has perfected the art of turning any peaceful demonstration into a first class riot, by brutally attacking demonstrators first. Of course a riotous situation attracts a lot of funding, which is stolen by corrupt security officials for the security agencies. But should it be business for security agencies in exchange for peace and stability?

Wednesday 2 November 2011


By Omar Kalinge-Nnyago

25 years ago, much of Uganda was filled with excitement and optimism. A ‘bad’ regime had fallen and a promise of a new Uganda was made. The heroes were unassuming simple folk from villages, with their child soldiers also known as Kadogos in tow. There were a few elites, who were the real owners of the revolution though. Many of them spoke a common language.  The former Kadogos are now men and women.  Children born on the day Kampala fell on January 26, 1986 have already graduated from University. Many more have died of preventable diseases. The real owners of the struggle have made immense personal progress: money and influence.

Three things about the NRM struggle stood out. First was the intellectualism that characterized the new liberators. The picture of a brainy president who loved his chalk and board and good, if badly pronounced English, mixed with a kind of Kiswahili, to emphasize his Tanzanian education background.  Today, to survive in the ruling party, you must not be seen not to be smart enough to have a mind of your own. NRM has the largest number of educated people whose common actions cannot motivate any child to ever
go to school. There is no serious intellectual activity today even at Universities.

Second, was the distaste for materialism, consumerism and capitalist ways. The picture of a skinny youthful president dressed awkwardly in a (short sleeved) Kaunda suit worn over a long sleeved shirt  folded up to the elbows, occasionally peeping through the Kaunda, drinking out of a plastic mug was re-assuring. As events unfolded, it became clear that The new leader was just acting.  NRM’s twenty five years have given to the nation a unique ‘gift’ of consumerism and materialism that can only be fuelled by graft and wanton theft of public funds. An unacceptably high percentage of Ugandans live beyond their means, a situation that can only compromise their integrity. Legislators will receive bribes. Teachers will sell marks. Married women will be ladies of the night too. Decent business people will be crushed and disgraced for refusing to bribe some high ups.

Third, was the new revolutionaries’ debasement of religion and spirituality. These were the days of Chango-Macho, who, in the name of austerity, once urged Churches to drink Malwa (a local brew) to save money spent on importing wine for the holy communion. Often religion would be mentioned as part of a joke.  Today, Museveni, the leader of the NRM revolution is remembered for two things when he speaks. A quote from the Holy Bible and an abuse or two against Amin and Obote. I don’t recall how many national prayers have been held.  “Prayer works” declared the president, as the nation ‘prayed for oil’ in 2006. It is now 2011 and not a drop of oil has been pumped out in commercial quantities. Now we are told to be patient till perhaps 2015. Yet, billions are believed to have been already siphoned off, in dubious transactions. An adhoc committee to
investigate the alleged loot has commenced work today, November 1, 2011.

Uganda has made a lot of ‘progress’ under the 25 years of NRM, in quantitative terms. There are more buildings without approved plans that could collapse any time. More pupils in their seventh grade who cannot spell their middle name. More University students and more graduates who cannot write a decent job application. More boarding schools whose hostels / dormitories are death traps. More cabinet Ministers whom the president thinks sleep most of the time. More districts without resources.  More vehicles on the terrible roads which can only cause thousands of avoidable deaths per year, because someone stole the money for road construction. The ruling party went to nominate its flag bearer for the 2011 presidential elections. Little guess, it was the ‘visionary’ leader.  His subjects, some of whom just crossed to the Movement the other day were singing along with the late Franco Luambo Makiadi when he sang for Marshall Mobutu in his hey days in his song: “Candidat Mobutu”
(Candidate Mobutu).

Luambo Makiadi sang: “Mobutu azongisa la paix na Zaire” (Mobutu has returned peace to Zaire). “Abebisa ata moke te” (he has not made any mistake). “Alembi naano te” (he is not tired). “Nzoto naye ezali naano makasi” (his body is in good health). “Pona nini toluka candidat mosusu?” (Why should we look for another candidate?). Now the opportunists and cronies are gunning for another presidential term for “Candidat” Museveni. Well, as events have unfolded in the past few months, there is a slim chance that he will be the candidate in the next general election. The regime is steadily on the decline, the NRM is divided – the Centre cannot hold anymore.